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November 02, 2004

Bush: "if you have political capital, you should spend it"

Update, November 4: Bush says: "I earned capital in the campaign - political capital - and now I intend to spend it," he said at a news conference 24 hours after securing his second term.

The Wall Street Journal had an editorial yesterday,"The Bush Record: How much leadership do the voters want?" (R) . It made me think about use of political capital, and about whether we really do want principled leaders. Here is an excerpt:

Of our handful of meetings with George W. Bush, the one that lingers as a harbinger of his Presidency is lunch in Austin, Texas, in late 1999. One of us asked the then-Governor what lesson he had learned from his father's White House experience. Without missing a beat, Mr. Bush replied that he'd learned that if you have political capital, you should spend it ....

We also recognize that Mr. Bush has shown he is capable of some crass political retreats, notwithstanding his campaign theme as a leader who never bends a principle. Steel tariffs, McCain-Feingold, the farm bill, Medicare prescription drugs, and most recently his surrender on intelligence reform--these have not been profiles in political courage.

Yet in the larger arc of the Bush Presidency, all of these are also of secondary importance. A leader's first priorities are peace and prosperity, which in our time mean keeping the U.S. economy competitive amid the emerging challenge from India and China, and of course the battle against terrorism.

A frequent lament among journalists, and often voters, is that politicians always take the easy way out; they never risk their personal popularity or re-election chances for the sake of longer run gains in the national interest. In Iraq and the Middle East, Mr. Bush has done precisely that.

Has he gauged it successfully or not? Actually, in his case, I don't think it was a case for close calculation. His big risks were in going into Afghanistan and into Iraq, and I think he would have taken those gambles out of responsibility even if political calculations were against them.

Nonetheless, that initial quote is very good: "if you have political capital, you should spend it". In my 4 P's Theory of Motivation the motivations are Place, Pride, Policy, and Power. Bush is willing to give up Power, and maybe Place, for Policy.

Of course, my hope if Kerry is elected President is that he will be completely interested in Place and Power, and will not use any of his political capital to achieve any of the things one might expect from the most left-wing member of the U.S. Senate. Clinton was a relief that way, though he started from pretending to be a centrist.

It's interesting that in practice Americans seem to like their politicians to be unprincipled. Clinton did not lose much by his immorality; many, perhaps most people thought that it wasn't too important that the President had committed perjury and adultery or that he lied constantly. A man without principles is more dependable, in a sense-- he can be counted upon to do what other people want him to do.

Posted by erasmuse at November 2, 2004 07:57 PM

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